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Florida Judge Hears Motions in Child Murder Case

Aired February 23, 2001 - 2:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And now to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where a judge is listening to arguments on whether to send a 14-year- old boy to prison for the rest of his life.

Last month -- you may know the story -- Lionel Tate was convicted of killing a 6-year-old girl. At the time, Lionel was 12. Defense attorneys say the death was accidental, that it happened while Tate was wrestling with Tiffany Eunick. But prosecutors say this little 48-pound girl was brutally beaten by the boy, who weighed 166 pounds. And because of that, they have argued he should get life behind bars.

CNN's Mark Potter joins us now, though, from the courthouse.

And there's definitely a move, Mark, to see that that doesn't happen to Lionel Tate.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Natalie, this case has attracted a lot of attention, and a number of people are asking that the sentence be reduced.

At this hour in the building behind me, the Broward County Courthouse, on the fourth floor, Judge Joel Lazarus is holding a motions hearing that could determine the fate of 14-year-old Lionel Tate. Because he was convicted of first-degree murder, he faces a mandatory life prison sentence. He was convicted in adult court even though he was 12 at the time that he killed the little girl.

The defense attorneys, however, are asking the judge to do a couple of things. They are asking that the -- that a new trial be set, or that the jury verdict be changed or reduced to a lesser verdict so that a lesser sentence can be imposed. They are also asking that bond be set for Lionel, who is currently in jail.

He appeared at the hearing today. He arrived in handcuffs. He was wearing jail garb. For a short while, he was actually handcuffed to the seat in the courtroom. But at the request of his attorney, he was released. They took the handcuffs off. He is sitting there now with his attorneys and with psychologists.

Now, we want to go to courtroom to look at the situation there. We have just heard from a juror in the case. His name is Steve Dankner. He testified before the judge -- we're seeing here Joe Lazarus -- that he believes that the verdict was proper, that Lionel should have been convicted, but also believes that a mandatory life prison sentence for a 14-year-old boy is too much, that the sentence should be reduced, perhaps to the level of what was originally offered by the prosecution before the trial began. The plea deal they offered the family was three years in a juvenile detention center and 10 years of probation after that.

The family turned that down and so the trial went to -- the case went to trial. The boy was convicted. The prosecution is now arguing that the boy should be -- should face a life prison sentence because he went to trial, although the governor could step in and reduce that sentence.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: And, Mark, did Lionel Tate ever make any statements during the trial or before or after about all of this?

POTTER: No, he did not testify at trial, and, to my knowledge, has not spoken publicly afterward.

His attorney has spoken. He says that he now regrets not taking that plea deal, although at the time he and the boy's mother thought that they could win the case. They thought the boy was innocent. Now they are making the point that the plea deal was good before the trial, it's the sentence that should be imposed by the judge now.

The prosecution arguing that because the boy has been convicted, the judge must sentence him to life in prison, although the prosecutor has said if the governor steps in, holds a clemency hearing and reduces the sentence after sentence is imposed by the court, the state would not oppose that.

So this is going to go on for some time. The sentencing date is scheduled for two weeks from today.

ALLEN: OK, thank you, Mark Potter in Fort Lauderdale.

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